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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Memory network of social anxiety Fung, Klint


The classical conditioning framework has been applied to understand social anxiety,. Specifically, memory representations of conditioned stimuli were proposed to elicit representations of unconditioned stimuli, which then elicit anxiety. The purpose of the current dissertation is identifying conditioned and unconditioned stimuli relevant to social anxiety. To accomplish this goal, I conducted a series of studies using computerized conditioning tasks and university student samples. First, I tested the hypothesis that physical characteristics of people are stimuli and negative evaluation is an unconditioned stimulus relevant to social anxiety. If the hypothesis is true, I would observe the effects of acquisition, extinction, generalization, and inflation. In Study A (n = 263), I found that faces paired with negative evaluation resulted in increased anxiety towards the face alone (i.e., acquisition), and subsequently presenting the face alone reduced anxiety (i.e., extinction). In Study B (n = 388), pairing a face with negative evaluation caused increased anxiety towards other resembling faces (i.e., perceptual generalization). In Study C (n = 223), pairing a face with negative evaluation and then explaining the meaning negative evaluation to be intense caused increased anxiety towards the face alone (i.e., inflation). In Study D (n = 417), I tested another hypothesis that self-attributes (e.g., of appearing physically unattractive or as appearing anxious) can serve as conditioned stimuli and negative evaluation as an unconditioned stimulus relevant to social anxiety. I found that pairing different words representing one category of self-attributes with negative evaluation, in the form of facial expressions and a text statement, caused increased anxiety towards novel words that represent the self-attributes within the same category. In sum, these results were consistent with the hypotheses tested. Through secondary analyses, I found that participant social anxiety was related to enhanced acquisition only when faces were used as the stimuli (Study A). Participant social anxiety was not related to the degree of perceptual generalization (Study B), inflation (Study C), and acquisition towards self-attributes (Study D). The results suggest that participants were not especially prone to the learning mechanisms underlying the effects investigated.

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